Musical saw

Musical saw
Playing a musical saw

A musical saw, also called a singing saw, is the application of a hand saw as a musical instrument. The sound creates an ethereal tone, very similar to the theremin. The musical saw is classified as a friction idiophone with direct friction (131.22) under the Hornbostel-Sachs system of musical instrument classification.



A performer

The saw is generally played seated with the handle squeezed between the legs, and the far end held with one hand. Some sawists play standing, either with the handle between the knees and the blade sticking out in front of them, or with the handle under the chin (like a violin). The saw is usually played with the serrated edge, or teeth facing the body, though some players face them away. Some saw players file down the teeth for added comfort. To sound a note, a sawist first bends the blade into an S-curve. The parts of the blade that are curved are damped from vibration, and do not sound. At the center of the S-curve a section of the blade remains relatively flat. This section, the "sweet spot", can vibrate across the width of the blade, producing a distinct pitch: the wider the section of blade, the lower the sound. Sound is usually created by drawing a bow across the back edge of the saw at the sweet spot, or sometimes by striking the sweet spot with a mallet. The sawist controls the pitch by adjusting the S-curve, making the sweet spot travel up the blade (toward a thinner width) for a higher pitch, or toward the handle for a lower pitch. Harmonics can be created by playing at varying distances on either side of the sweet spot. Sawists can add vibrato by shaking one of their legs or by wobbling the hand that holds the tip of the blade. Once a sound is produced, it will sustain for quite a while, and can be carried through several notes of a phrase.

Types of saw

Sawists often use standard wood-cutting saws, although special musical saws are also made. As compared with wood-cutting saws, the blades of musical saws are generally wider, for range, and longer, for finer control. They do not have set or sharpened teeth, and may have grain running parallel to the back edge of the saw, rather than parallel to the teeth. Some musical saws are made with thinner metal, to increase flexibility, while others are made thicker, for a richer tone, longer sustain, and stronger harmonics. A typical musical saw is 5" wide at the handle end and 1" wide at the tip. A saw will generally produce about 2 octaves regardless of length. A bass saw may be 6" at the handle and produce about 2½ octaves. Two-person saws, also called "misery whips", can also be played, though with less virtuosity, and they produce an octave or less of range.

Most sawists use cello or violin bows, using violin rosin, but some may use improvised home-made bows, such as a wooden dowel.

Producers of musical saws

Musical saws have been produced for over a century, primarily in the United States, though there are some producers in other countries.

United States

In the early 1900s, there were at least ten companies in the United States manufacturing musical saws.[citation needed] These saws ranged from the familiar steel variety to gold-plated masterpieces worth hundreds of dollars. However, with the start of World War II the demand for metals made the manufacture of saws too expensive[1] and many of these companies went out of business. In the year 2000 only three companies in the United States were making saws:

Outside the United States

Outside the United States, there are 3 notable makers of musical saws:

  • In Sweden, Sandvik, maker of the Stradivarius saw
  • In France, Alexis, which produces a toothless saw, "La Lame Sonore", with a range of three and a half octaves (Patent: N° E31975)
  • In the UK - Thomas Flinn & Co. Sheffield based Saw Manufacturers. 3 different sized Musical Saws, cheats, bows and rosin available.[citation needed]

Events and world records

The International Musical Saw Association (IMSA) produces an annual International Musical Saw Festival (including a "Saw-Off" competition every August in Santa Cruz and Felton, California (about 90 minutes drive south of San Francisco). An International Musical Saw Festival is held every summer in New York City, produced by Natalia Paruz. Natalia also produced a Musical Saw Festival in Israel.[2] There are also annual Saw Festivals in Japan & China.

A Guinness World Record for the 'Largest Musical Saw Ensemble' was established July 18, 2009 at the annual NYC Musical Saw Festival. Organized by Natalia 'Saw Lady' Paruz, 53 musical saw players performed together.[3]

Saw players

This is a list of people notable for playing the musical saw.

  • Natalia Paruz, also known as the 'Saw Lady', plays the musical saw in movie soundtracks, in TV commercials, with orchestras internationally, and is the organizer of international saw festivals in New York City and Israel. A commercial website selling her works is found at
  • Kev Hopper, formerly the bass guitarist in the 1980s band Stump, made an album entitled Saurus in 2003 featuring six original saw tunes.
  • Charles Hindmarsh, also known as The Yorkshire Musical Saw Player, has played the musical saw throughout the UK.
  • Janeen Rae Heller played the saw in four television guest appearances: The Tracey Ullman Show (1989),[4] Quantum Leap (1990),[4] and Home Improvement (1992[4][5] and 1999). She has also performed on albums such as Michael Hedges' The Road to Return in 1994 and Rickie Lee Jones's Ghostyhead in 1997.
  • Julian Koster of the band Neutral Milk Hotel played the singing saw, along with other instruments, in the band and currently plays the saw in his solo project, The Music Tapes. In 2008, he released The Singing Saw at Christmastime.
  • Armand Quoidbach, is a Belgian saw player who has played the saw since 1997. In 1999 he played on the national Belgian TV (RTBF2) . In August 2000 he won the first prize at the contest for bands of the 25th "Plinn festival" in Bourbriac (Brittany) with the band "Le Bûcheron Mélomane et les Nains de la Forêt" (The Music-loving Lumberjack and the Dwarfs of the Forest). In 2002 he played on a CD "MUSIC DRAMA" of the band "My Little Cheap Dictaphone" La Médiatheque de Belgique. He performed with numerous musicians in Belgium and in France.
  • Thomas Jefferson Scribner was a familiar figure on the streets of Santa Cruz, California during the 1970s playing the musical saw. He performed on a variety of recordings and appeared in folk music festivals in the USA and Canada [6]during the 1970s. His work as labour organizer and member of the IWW is documented in the film "The Wobblies" 1979[7]. Canadian composer/saw player Robert Minden pays tribute to him on his website [8]. Musician/songwriter, Utah Phillips has recorded a song referencing Scribner, "The Saw Playing Musician" on the album Fellow Workers with Ani DiFranco. Artist Marghe McMahon was inspired in 1978 to create a bronze statue of Tom playing the musical saw which sits in downtown Santa Cruz.[9]
  • Marlene Dietrich played the saw on the Berlin stage and later used it to entertain troops during World War II.[1][10]


Some artists have composed music specifically for the musical saw. The composer Krzysztof Penderecki wrote regularly for the musical saw, including several obbligato parts in his comic opera "Ubu Rex", and Canadian composer Robert Minden has written extensively for the musical saw. [11] The Rumanian composer George Enescu uses the musical saw at the end of the second act of his opera "Œdipe" to express the death of the sphinx killed by Oedipus.



External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • musical saw — n. a handsaw held upright between the knees and variously flexed and stroked with a violin bow to produce musical tones …   English World dictionary

  • musical saw — noun : a handsaw made to produce melody by bending the blade with varying tension while sounding it with a small hammer or a violin bow * * * ˌmusical ˈsaw 7 [musical saw] noun a musical instrument consisting of a ↑saw that bends to produce… …   Useful english dictionary

  • musical saw — noun (also saw) A musical instrument consisting of a thin sheet of metal, or sometimes a saw, usually played with a bow …   Wiktionary

  • musical saw — mu′sical saw′ n. mus mad a handsaw played as a musical instrument with a violin bow or a hammer while the saw is bent with varying tension to change the pitch • Etymology: 1925–30 …   From formal English to slang

  • musical saw — a handsaw played as a musical instrument with a violin bow or a hammer while the saw is bent with varying tension to change the pitch. [1925 30] * * * …   Universalium

  • musical saw — noun a saw, typically held between the knees and played with a bow like a cello …   English new terms dictionary

  • musical saw — noun Date: 1927 a handsaw made to produce melody by bending the blade while sounding it with a hammer or violin bow …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • The Yorkshire Musical Saw Player — Charles Hindmarsh, stage name The Yorkshire Musical Saw Player, is an English musical performer who specialises in the playing of the musical saw. A native of the North Yorkshire town of Harrogate, Charles Hindmarsh studied violin at college, but …   Wikipedia

  • Saw (disambiguation) — A saw is a cutting tool.Saw may also refer to: * Saw (film series), a series of horror films ** Saw (2003 film), a 2003 short film by James Wan, upon which the series of films was originally based ** Saw (film), the first movie in the series,… …   Wikipedia

  • musical — adj. & n. adj. 1 of or relating to music. 2 (of sounds, a voice, etc.) melodious, harmonious. 3 fond of or skilled in music (the musical one of the family). 4 set to or accompanied by music. n. a musical film or comedy. Phrases and idioms:… …   Useful english dictionary

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